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November 6, 2008

Wolfpack rolls in exhibition opener

One minute into the Fort Valley State exhibition game on Thursday night at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC State sophomore point guard Javier Gonzalez raced down the court and threw a perfect lob pass to senior center Ben McCauley, who slammed it home for a crowd pleasing alley-oop.

The play signified that perhaps NC State is serious about increasing the tempo of its play this year, and the result could be a more high-octane offense. NC State flirted with going into triple digits scoring before winning 94-65.

"I thought it was a very good effort on our guys' part, especially on the first time out, really did a lot of things well, pushed the ball well," NC State had coach Sidney Lowe said. "We had spurts where we were really good defensively, and we moved the ball around. We had 26 assists on 33 baskets, that's pretty good."

Senior wing Courtney Fells led the way, scoring 21 points in 21 minutes while connecting on 7 of 10 shots, including 2 of his 3 three-point attempts. McCauley added 12 points, shooting 6 of 11 from the field, five rebounds and four assists, and off the bench sophomore Tracy Smith, whom Lowe identified as McCauley's backup in the post, had 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

The Pack started quickly, using a starting five of Gonzalez at point, freshman C.J. Williams at shooting guard, Fells on the wing, redshirt junior Brandon Costner at power forward and McCauley at center. Williams' baseline jumper gave NC State a 10-3 lead less than three minutes into the game.

Williams' free throw with 2:28 left in the first half gave State a 20-point lead at 47-27, and they led 50-32 at the break. NC State twice led by as many as 33 in the second half.

Williams scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and added four rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes. His classmate, rookie guard Julius Mays, struggled at times coming off the bench. He was held scoreless while turning it over twice in eight minutes.

Redshirt junior Farnold Degand, coming back for his first action since tearing his ACL last year, does not appear to have lost a step but showed some rustiness coming off the bench. He scored five points and dished out four assists in 13 minutes, but also committed four personal fouls. Gonzalez started at point guard and had a team-high eight assists in 22 minutes while scoring four points, making 1 of his 2 three-pointers.

Also returning from injury was redshirt freshman forward Johnny Thomas, who missed last year with a knee injury. Thomas had a dunk that excited the crowd in the first half, but he landed badly on his ankle while trying to block a transition basket and would be helped off the court. Thomas did not return to action, and Lowe said after the game he did not know the severity of the injury.

"Johnny, I can't even tell you when he'll be back because he could be back tomorrow," Lowe noted. "That's just how he is. He's such a tough, tough young man. He's endured a lot over the last year or so. Hopefully he'll be okay."

NC State as a team shot 33 of 64 from the field for 51.6 percent, and made 7 of 19 three-pointers, led by redshirt junior guard Trevor Ferguson going a perfect 3 of 3 off the bench for his nine points.

If there was an area of concern however, it was rebounding. Fort Valley State had 14 offensive rebounds, leading to 13 second chance points. They outrebounded the Pack 39-35 overall.

"We have to [rebound] by committee, we really do," Lowe pointed out. "That's the one area that I wasn't pleased with tonight is the rebounding. A couple of times we blocked out, but we didn't go get the rebound. You got to do both. But it's going to have to be by committee because we don't have that dominant rebounder."

A noticeably fitter Costner also struggled with his shot, making just 1 of 5, although he was sharp from the line, going 5 of 6, and finishing with seven points. Lowe said after the game Costner was bothered by a sore ankle.

NC State's defense did force 27 turnovers however, with 10 of them coming on steals. Ferguson led the Pack with three swipes. State also blocked six shots.


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